Australian crime drama Animal Kingdom presents an 18 year old who has slipped through the cracks. His mother’s death and the lack of social care provided to him do not represent a break, though. The nature of the death (overdose) and his passive response suggest otherwise. This apparent stoicism is held up through almost the entire film as J is forced to turn to his mother’s criminal relatives. He never deliberately gets involved in crime, but simply adapts in order to survive. Of course, things don’t go simply in a film full of the intricate politics and Catch 22s we’ve come to expect after the likes of Goodfellas.
The gang is a family, but the tie is tenuous at best, and constantly strained. It’s easy to take this as allegory: our few glimpses at outside society find families less disturbed but fractured nonetheless. Some themes relate above all to Australian society – heroin addiction, police corruption – but one character unwittingly speaks for a universality and a fundamental cause. When J (quite understandably) protests that “This has got nothing to do with me”, Luke Ford’s Darren cuts in:
“Mate, everything has got to do with everyone. Don’t you fucking understand that?”
With a sub-Hollywood budget (5m AUD), shallow focus was perhaps a necessary evil but the photography is otherwise impressively purposeful. All the performances are nuanced and believable, including Guy Pearce who successfully blends into his cop role with a facial transformation that surprisingly suits him. If the film can be called limited in scope – it stays mostly apolitical and doesn’t tackle, say, capitalism like Scorsese has – it is at the benefit of enlarging the turbulence of a teenager’s life. Isolated, luckless and without a home or purpose, J represents an inner anguish that drives the film with a great deal of power.